Newest abortion law in Kansas requires putting questions to patients. Here’s what that means

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The abortion law took effect July 1 and has joined other efforts to limit abortion in Kansas in ongoing court battles about how far state lawmakers can regulate the procedure.

The Legislature passed a law requiring clinics to ask patients why they’re seeking abortions. Credit: Niko Schmidt / The Beacon

TAKEAWAYS

  • Republicans say asking patients why they want an abortion provides useful information that can inform future state laws.
  • Democrats say the law is intrusive and unnecessary. 
  • Medical providers have to ask the question, but patients don’t have to answer it.

What’s the harm in asking? Abortion rights supporters say quite a bit. Republicans in the state Legislature are trying to gather more data about the practice. 

Starting July 1, any medical professional performing an abortion is required by Kansas statute to ask patients their reasons for getting it.

The law passed the Kansas Legislature this spring, and lawmakers overrode Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto. It’s already entangled in court fights, and the state agency that regulates medical care doesn’t plan immediate enforcement.

The Republicans who engineered the bill argued that a questionnaire — asking whether the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, if it threatens a patient’s health, if the parents don’t feel supported by family or if the baby would interfere with someone’s life goals — could give a better understanding of what leads to abortions. 

Opponents see the questions as intrusive and intimidating to women at particularly vulnerable times.

“There is no valid medical reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature if they have been a victim of abuse, rape, or incest,” Kelly said in her veto statement. “There is also no valid reason to force a woman to disclose to the Legislature why she is seeking an abortion.” 

The Kansas News Service reported that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment told providers it will not enforce the law. The agency didn’t confirm those statements when asked by reporters. 

Here is what else you need to know about the law. 

Do patients have to tell doctors why they are seeking an abortion in Kansas?

Women seeking an abortion don’t need to respond to the questions. 

Republicans say that should address Democrats’ concerns, but Rep. Susan Ruiz, a Shawnee Democrat, said it’s “outrageous” that patients are asked. 

Republicans say more information on abortion is helpful 

The law passed through the Statehouse on party lines. Republicans said it would provide valuable information the state Legislature could use. 

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, quoted an excerpt from a September 2005 report from the research group the Guttmacher Institute, which backs abortion rights, to support the bill. 

“Understanding women’s reasons for having abortions can inform public debate and policy,” Landwher said during an April debate. “This does not restrict women from having their abortion.”  

The Legislature overrode Kelly’s veto without any votes to spare in the House or Senate. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the Statehouse. 

Democrats say asking patients why they seek abortions is invasive

Democrats blasted the bill as government overreach and an attack on abortion access. 

Ruiz said during an April debate that the Legislature wouldn’t use the results of the questionnaires in good faith. 

“We are not known to pass legislation that actually really does benefit women,” she said. “We are not known for that.” 

The Kansas abortion law can be included in a lawsuit. Will it get struck down? 

Doctors are challenging the new law, saying it’s intrusive and unconstitutional. 

In August 2022, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have opened the way for the Legislature to ban abortion. But lawmakers can still regulate it. Attempts by the Legislature to impose strict regulations that threatened the ability to perform abortions in Kansas have been regularly rejected by the courts for going too far. 

The new law doesn’t add new health or safety standards during the procedure. Rather, it adds things providers must do. Courts will ultimately decide if lawmakers imposed something that’s overly burdensome. 

The Kansas Supreme Court recently struck down two abortion laws that were over a decade old. One ruling threw out a law banning a type of abortion procedure. The second ruling said a set of requirements for abortion providers was unconstitutional because other providers weren’t subject to those same regulations. 

Those decade-old laws were never enforced because courts set them aside while the legal issues played out.